JB – politician, scholar, litterateur & journalist

Bhubaneswar: J.B. Patnaik, thrice Odisha chief minister who passed away today, wore many hats with elan. A crafty politician, scholar, literrateur and journalist, Patnaik was a key figure in Odisha’s political and literary landscape for over four decades.

Hailing from a humble background, Patnaik not only proved his abilities in politics by becoming a Union minister, three-time chief minister as well as governor but also displayed his versatility by excelling in literature, journalism and culture. He was also a Sanskrit scholar.

What he had once quoted in the famous Odia magazine ‘Pourusha’ founded by him in 1967 could well be a description of himself. “Daivayatam kule janma, madayatam cha pourasham” (being born with silver spoon may be decided by the almighty, but proving one’s worth depends on the man), he had written.

Indoctrinated into politics soon after completing his education, Patnaik, who passed away at Tirupati today, was at the centre of political activities in the State even when Congress was out of power, though his family had no links with politics.

The Congress stalwart became chief minister first in 1980 and continued in office till 1989. He bounced back to power in 1995 and remained chief minister till 1999. However, his stint as CM was highly controversial and marred by many scandals.

While Patnaik’s period as chief minister was described as ‘golden age’ by his loyalists who said the State made all-round progress during 14 years of his rule, he was criticised for several scandals during his tenure, including the infamous Chhabirani murder case of mid-80s.

The Congress veteran was the leader of Opposition in Odisha Assembly from 2004 to 2009. He was appointed the governor of Assam in 2009. Earlier, he had served as the Union minister.

People close to him claim that as Assam governor, Patnaik was instrumental for the entry of women into ‘Kirtan Ghar’ (sanctum sanctorum) of Patbausi Satra in central Assam.

Besides his political career, Patnaik was an eminent litterateur and won many literary awards. He won the Kendriya Sahitya Akademi for his Odia translation of Bankim Chandra’s novels titled ‘Bankim Chandra Upanyasmala’ in 2001 and Odisha Sahitya Akademi award for ‘Bairagya Shataka’, a translation of Bhartruhari’s celebrated Sanskrit work, in 1996.

Patnaik had translated the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Shrimad Bhagvat Gita into Odia. He also wrote books on Sindhu Upatyaka and Gautam Buddha.

Born on January 3, 1927, in Rameswar village near Khurda, Patnaik graduated in Sanskrit from Utkal University in 1947 and got Master’s degree in Political Science from Benaras Hindu University in 1949.

He became a journalist and joined English daily ‘Eastern Times’ as a sub-editor. He became its joint editor in 1950 and then its editor. Simultaneously, he took up editorship of Odia daily ‘Prajatantra’ before publishing the monthly journal ‘Pourusha’ in 1967 which came to be known for its rich quality.

Patnaik became president of State Youth Congress in 1953 and successfully led a tenants’ movement at Madhupur in Cuttack in 1954. He was elected to Lok Sabha in 1971 and became a Deputy Minister of Defence under Indira Gandhi from 1973 to 1975 and then Minister of State for Defence till 1980.

He was again elected to Lok Sabha in January 1980 and became Union minister for Tourism, Civil Aviation and Labour. Later that year, Patnaik was unanimously elected as leader of Congress Legislature Party of Odisha and became the chief minister.